After some monumental struggles—including director replacements and many postponements—The Wolfman is finally in theaters, and those problems are evident in the finished product. While Benicio Del Toro puts in some good work as the hairy one, the film feels like it's missing something.
Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro) hears his brother is missing, so he returns to his homeland to discover that someone, or something, has mauled his brother to death. One night, during an ill-advised visit to a gypsy camp, he's attacked and ultimately becomes the latest recipient of the Wolfman's curse. Sucks to be him.
Joe Johnston was not the right choice to direct this one. I'm not a fan of his Jurassic Park III, and his best film is probably Honey, I Shrunk the Kids—which was made 20 years ago. He's not a bad director, but he can get kind of schlocky. When addressing an infamous, gothic universal monster such as The Wolfman, style, not schlock, is essential.
You can see Johnston making his best attempts at creating style. The Talbot estate where the doomed Lawrence and his crazy daddy (Anthony Hopkins) reside is straight out of a '30s horror picture. Johnston gets the grays and blues just right, and if you were to do a screen grab, you'd think he nailed the world he's trying to create.
The problem comes with the movement of the camera and the characters; action scenes come off as high-octane CGI fakery, which just doesn't jibe with a period piece. When the werewolf gets on all fours and bounds through the forest, you might as well be watching a cartoon. Actually ... you are watching a cartoon.
Rick Baker (the man responsible for An American Werewolf in London's groundbreaking beast) reportedly sought out producers to get the makeup job here. The Wolfman's look is a combo of CGI and Baker's practical effects. Oddly, it is here that the CGI works rather well. A scene in which Del Toro transforms in front of a medical audience, complete with a gnarled face and cracking fingers, is actually quite effective. It's the practical makeup that looks a little cumbersome and, yes, goofy. Del Toro wears a huge headpiece that often looks like a bad Halloween mask; it doesn't successfully integrate with his features.
Del Toro does his best with a thin, predictable story. My favorite moments are not the actual werewolf attacks, but the aftermath, when Del Toro wakes up soaked in blood, exhausted and confused. It's here that he's able to give his character a decent human edge.
Hopkins gets to goof around and act nutty like he did in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula. His moments onscreen are some of the movie's best, although I wasn't blown away by Daddy Talbot's character arc. The film's final battle sequence is moronic and reminded me of the terrible werewolf showdown in Jack Nicholson's Wolf.
Emily Blunt is good as the love interest. She's quickly becoming one of today's more reliable actresses. As a Scotland Yard inspector, Hugo Weaving drags out every piece of dialogue in an exaggerated manner; the performance is akin to his overacting in the Matrix movies. This guy can really get on my nerves.
Mark Romanek, who made the very good One Hour Photo and some of the best music videos ever produced, was originally slated to direct The Wolfman. Something tells me his movie would've been a lot better than the one we ultimately got.
The original The Wolfman, starring Lon Chaney Jr., is a little overrated, and it hasn't stood up as well as the original Dracula and some of the Frankenstein movies. It could be argued that this remake is better than the original in many ways—but that doesn't mean it's very good.